Wildlife and gas wells

The prospect of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission abandoning a proposed new regulation that could impose a 90-day drilling moratorium in wildlife-sensitive areas seemed like a mistake to us — at first.

But local representatives to the state Legislature make a good argument for why the commission ought to drop that proposed rule during meetings this week. It can do so and still adequately protect wildlife.

We have never believed there should be a blanket moratorium on all drilling in northwestern Colorado for three months each winter. That wasn’t the intention of the rule drafted by the staff of the oil and gas commission this year — a proposal that became the single most controversial measure in the package of proposed new rules.

Rather, the 90-day drilling ban was to be a last resort, a bureaucratic hammer to hold over drilling companies that are reluctant to develop comprehensive development plans that include wildlife protections.

This week, the staff of the commission announced it would recommend the 90-day ban be dropped from the new regulations.

State Sen. Josh Penry supports that idea, as do Mesa County’s other legislators, Reps. Bernie Buescher and Steve King. Dropping that rule is necessary to allow gas companies to move drill rigs from federal lands — where they are generally prohibited from drilling in winter — to nearby private lands. The alternatives — to idle the drill rigs or move them out of state, then return to drilling in Colorado in the spring — are cost prohibitive.

While the 90-day moratorium would be gone, legislators and staff for the oil and gas commission say there are other incentives for gas companies to work for wildlife protection. Other restrictions can be imposed on where and how drilling is to take place.

Some of the major drilling companies operating in Colorado — such as Williams Energy and Encana — have gone out of their way to work with the DOW and incorporate wildlife protection into their drilling plans. But not all companies have been as proactive in protecting wildlife.

If the Oil and Gas Commission accepts the staff recommendation to abandon the 90-day drilling ban — and there seems to be good reason for doing so — it must ensure it has other means to adequately protect Colorado’s invaluable wildlife resource while allowing drilling for another important resource.


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